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Kate Laister-Smith Case Study

Kate Laister-Smith

Warwick Institute of Engagement (WIE) Events Coordinator Kate Laister-Smith shares how she shaped her public engagement career ambitions as an undergraduate at the university.

An interest in hands-on engagement

Kate developed a keen interest in how the public engages with academic research early in her History of Art degree, particularly enjoying hands-on work with a local stately home. This practical work focused on how different environments affect visitors’ understanding of artistic objects.

A flexible course structure meant that Kate could take an external module in second year, and ‘Public Engagement – Connecting Communities to Research’ seemed like the perfect fit.

“As soon as I saw the module, I knew I wanted to do it. Although I was interested in communicating research to the public, I didn’t realise such cohesive methods of engagement existed,” Kate says. “I certainly didn’t realise the breadth of research that existed, or that we had a department here at Warwick dedicated to Public Engagement.”

Taking a key role in student-led engagement projects

Becoming a student fellow at the WIE seemed like a logical next step to Kate. She particularly enjoyed the WIE’s ‘Learning Circles’, alongside the opportunity to network with a talented group of academics, professional services staff and other students.

As a Student Director for WIE, Kate created and ran a public engagement event for students to showcase their research through interactive stands, offering training sessions, one-on-one guidance and more.

“I saw real growth in the students I worked with. All the students had interesting research and a desire to share it, but many had no prior experience of public engagement. Through the training and individual support I provided, I saw a growth in their communication skills. This was particularly evident at the actual event.

“Showcasing their research in new ways helped students further their own understanding of their subject. Many found new perspectives or were asked questions they didn’t expect, leading to new avenues of research. A number told me the process was also a massive confidence boost.”

Now a full-time Events Coordinator, Kate is passionate about the personalised support the WIE can offer academics. She continues “The beauty of WIE is that we can tailor our support to suit each academics needs, be that training, operational support or help with funding applications.

“Building a meaningful connection with the audience you want to engage with takes time and expertise. Most academic researchers are doing public engagement alongside their other research and teaching responsibilities – this is where WIE comes in. We can handle the operational side of sharing research, such as finding venues and volunteers to support the event AND we can connect academics with their desired audiences.”

Building career foundations

Having arrived at Warwick with her future career plans not yet formed, Kate has been inspired by her time with WIE to pursue a career in public engagement with higher education.

“Working with WIE has completely changed the course of my future. I am about to start my new full-time role as Events Coordinator within WIE and am incredibly excited to keep developing my knowledge and skills within this area.”